WORCESTER, Mass. — Grant Blakey is about as unassuming a figure as you’ll find in the locker room of a college hockey team.
Luckily for Mercyhurst, the game isn’t played in the locker room.
Blakey scored his second game-winner of the series and fifth of the season, providing all the offense the sixth-seeded Lakers would need to dispatch host and third-seeded Holy Cross 1-0 in the decisive game of their best-of-three Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series on Sunday.
“This might’ve been one of his best weekends,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said of his captain. “Grant is a very quiet kid. He’s not a guy who’s going to stand up and make a speech between periods about ‘Hey, I’m a senior, this is my last kick at the can,’ but what he does, he goes out and scores three goals in three games. He just leads by example.”
On the goal, Daniel Bahntge threaded a pass from the low slot through traffic to Blakey, who was unattended on the far side of the crease. The goal was Blakey’s 12th of the season.
“It means everything to me,” said Blakey. “[This is my] senior year. If it goes the wrong way, the wrong bounce, it could’ve been my last of the year, so it’s amazing to get those game-winners and keep our team in it.”
The Lakers will play fourth-seeded Connecticut in Friday’s second semifinal at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.
Mercyhurst reverted to junior goaltender Jordan Tibbett, who earned the win on Friday night, for the decisive battle. Tibbett made six saves in the game’s opening nine minutes before getting spun around by Erik Vos while playing a puck behind his own goal line. Tibbett landed awkwardly and remained down for a few moments, but did not exit the game.
Tibbett shrugged off the incident.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “That kind of stuff happens, you get used to it.”
The Lakers nearly doubled their advantage on multiple occasions prior to intermission and it took a pair of desperate backchecks from Nilan Nagy and Ryan McGrath to keep the Holy Cross deficit at one.
Little changed through the middle frame as the teams exchanged chances.
Holy Cross forward Rob Linsmayer set up freshman Castan Sommer for a clean look on an odd-man rush with a minute remaining in the period, but the shot sailed just wide.
Holy Cross ratcheted up the forecheck in the third, but was held to just three shots on goal in the first half of the period thanks to a stingy Mercyhurst defense that relegated the Crusaders’ offense to the periphery of the attacking zone.
The bulk of action in the game, however, wedged itself into the final seven minutes. With 6:11 remaining, an apparent goal from Mercyhurst’s Paul Chiasson was disallowed after a lengthy conference involving all four officials, who determined that Holy Cross netminder Matt Ginn was impeded in the crease. The decision catalyzed the Holy Cross attack and only a full extension stab from Tibbett robbed Crusaders’ defenseman Karl Beckman of a tying goal just 30 seconds later.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, the zeal came with a loss of composure. Kyle Fletcher lost his stick in the crease on the ensuing scramble and blatantly shoved Tibbett, dislodging the net and forcing Holy Cross to kill off a needless penalty at the worst possible time. Beckman compounded the problem by committing a slash with just four seconds remaining on Fletcher’s infraction.
Ginn stepped up, making a handful of saves while fighting off goal mouth traffic from Mercyhurst’s Matthew Zay. After the penalty kills, however, the Crusaders were left with just 1:15 of full-strength time to try and salvage a tying goal.
“Matt’s a good goalie and he did his job,” Crusaders’ coach Paul Pearl said of his sophomore, who made 32 saves. “I thought we did a good job of keeping some stuff to the outside, but especially on the power plays – five I think they had – he was great.”
On the other end, Tibbett was called upon three times in the final 1:15, but remained calm even in the closing moments.
“It’s the same thing that goes through your head the first second that you’re out there,” said Tibbett of the final few shifts. “You gotta keep calm and focused and do your job. The game is the easy part; it’s all preparation and I think that showed in the three games.”